Pictured: Lauren Rafferty, 12, who died on Mother’s Day
The shattered mother of a 12-year-old girl who died on Mother’s Day has opened up about her desperate search for answers in a heavily censored suicide note.
Rachel Owen reminded her daughter Lauren Rafferty to take her headphones out of her ears so she could hear oncoming traffic before the schoolgirl went for a walk in her hometown of Wagga Wagga in regional New South Wales on May 9.
Hours later, the Year 7 student was dead.
Ms Owen has been trying to work out what happened to her ‘smart and funny’ girl with little more than a photocopy of her last words to her family, which has been edited so ferociously by police that it ‘reads like like an Area 51 report’.
After speaking with a number of Lauren’s teachers and heartbroken friends, she believes her daughter had depression and fell between the cracks in the education and health systems.
Pictured: Rachel Owen at her daughter Lauren Rafferty’s funeral in the Tree Chapel of Wagga Wagga’s Botanic Gardens
Pictured: Lauren Owen, 12, who took her own life on Mother’s Day this year. Her mother feels as though the school’s counselling system let her down
‘She could have been a supermodel, brain surgeon, astronaut or artist,’ Ms Owen told the Daily Telegraph.
‘She was smart but also as funny as Robin Williams. But there’s no laughter in my house anymore.’
The mother feels ‘sad for the world’ that Lauren’s enormous potential was lost because she believes mental health services in the town shielded her from the reality of her daughter’s dire situation.
According to Ms Owen, Lauren’s teachers first realised the youngster was struggling in Year 5 when she was trying on a new school uniform and accidentally revealed scars on her skin where she had been cutting herself.
A year-and-a-half later, the schoolgirl was turned away from early intervention mental health service Headspace because she was 11 and-a-half, and the organisation only caters to children older than 12.
Lauren is pictured visiting the elderly at Christmas time in 2020 – with her mother saying she could have been a ‘supermodel, brain surgeon, astronaut or artist’
Instead, a counsellor at Sturt Public School sent her to a psychologist who saw Lauren ‘four or five times’ before assuring her worried mother that she was not at risk.
Headspace CEO Jason Trethowan told the publication that counsellors should ensure all referrals of children under 12 are ‘safely and appropriately linked with a service’.
During Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, the young girl had psychology sessions over the phone but struggled to connect with ‘a strange woman with a strange voice’.
Two weeks before she died, Lauren tried to speak with a school support officer but they were not at work that day.
Ms Owen only learned that her daughter had been seeing the school counsellor – the same counsellor who helped her in primary school – after she died, but does not know how often they met or for how long.
Pictured: Lauren with her brother in 2020. She had suffered with mental health issues for many years, but her mother had not been made aware of the extent of her troubles
Her mother said the school told her about her daughter’s mental health appointments throughout primary school, but stopped once she was in high school.
‘In primary school I knew about every counsellor interaction but boom – she hits high school and it’s no longer my business,’ Ms Owen said.
Ms Owen struggles to think about how her daughter’s life could have been saved if someone had listened to her cries for help, and believes every school should have two trained counsellors.
‘There should be a video camera in the school hall to watch for hesitant children who approach the counsellors’ office but back out and walk away crying,’ Ms Owen said.
‘If not a camera then a letterbox or an SMS system – anything to stop children seeking help being missed and forgotten about.’
If she had known Lauren was in counselling, she would have pushed to ensure the youngster was getting all the help she needed.
Ms Rafferty said Lauren only suffered the same level of bullying that any girl of her age does. Pictured: Kooringal High School where she was a Year 7 student
She also suspects her daughter’s friends knew she was struggling, but suspects Lauren told them not to share that information.
An education department spokesman told the publication that schools are working with wellbeing teams to build stronger connections between parents and community services.
‘The department works closely with national stakeholders such as the eSafety Commissioner and youth mental health organisation, headspace, to share information that will assist in a co-ordinated response to support students, schools, parents/carers and the school community,’ they said.
Every high school will have both a full-time counsellor and a full-time student support officer by June 2023.
Lauren was the third teenager to lose their lives to suicide in the Riverina this year.
A 14-year-old originally from nearby Narrandera died on May 17, leaving behind his four siblings.
And a 17-year-old girl from neighbouring Griffith, described as a star Year 12 pupil, was found dead in bushland at Scenic Hill on May 23.
For 24/7 confidential support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Kids Helpline can assist children struggling with mental health issues on 1800 55 1800.